Monday, May 28, 2012

Did I Finish That Ride, or Did it Finish Me?

A rough ride yesterday, and I ain't talking road surfaces.

I had mapped out a brand new route on the other side of the river, up through Deerfield into Shelburne, on tiny back ways with names like Sand Gully Road and Lucy Fiske Road (intersecting now, and for all eternity, with Erah Fiske Road... makes you think).

Before the suffering came the bridge over the pretty Deerfield
Many of the roads were gravel. Many -- too many -- were among the steepest actual roads I've ever ridden, more like mountain bike trails.

All of this sounded like a delightful adventure in the morning, but soon after I set out, I began losing power. It felt like a battery was missing. Shortly thereafter, I hit the nastiest hill of the day.
Standing up and jamming down on the pedals for all I was worth brought scrambling, meager progress.

Scramblescramblescramble, stop, heave for breath, hike-a-bike, heave for breath. And so forth.

A third of the way into the loop, the idea of turning back flitted through my mind, but was squashed like one of the gnats flitting endlessly around my sunglasses. Turn back? I might as well give up on the whole day. Turning back is so... depressing.

For better and for worse, I'm not real good with letting go.

This is a road, but only because it says so on the map

Finally, I topped out, at least temporarily. The view was nice, but not nice enough for all the trouble it took to get there. Later, I did get a better reward -- a visit with a local critter.

Climbing does have its rewards, such as the view from the top
Some people find lamas on the tops of mountains; I find llamas
The roads became more rolling, if by "rolling," you mean jagged, nasty sawtooth hills. The scenery picked up as I crossed Route 2 a couple of times and headed through the edges of Shelburne, a classic New England small town.

Pretty much the entire library for the town of Shelburne
Some business owner built this beauty, no doubt. Four chimneys!
It was about at this time I ran out of food and liquids, with nary a store to be seen. From there, it was onward to more ridonkulous hills and forest primeval. The final "road" that completed the loop portion of my ride was three miles of unmarked wet clay and scarifying descents down loose rock. I would have needed more more nutrition, more skills, or just a mountain bike, to enjoy it. Maybe all three.

But I finished. Ragged, barely moving, I crawled into a convenience store about two miles from the car and croaked out a request for a cola and a granola bar. Sweetest meal I've had in a while.

I'm sorry I wasn't in shape to relish the challenge while I was there, but it was, in fact, some of the more beautiful country I've ridden out here. Glad I took photos, 'cause I ain't headin' back there too soon.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Express to Somewhere

There's so much change in my life right now, there are nights when I awaken at two a.m. and have to feel of my arms and legs and chest to ensure I'm the same guy who went to sleep four hours ago.

I get up, roam the house (ground floor, so as not to awaken dear Mrs. V), have a bowl of cereal, gaze out the window at the dark forms of trees. The silence subsumes me; no birds, cars, squirrels, wind.  This is a great old house, and its solidity is sure solace in the middle of the night.

It's not like I'm sad or even worried tonight. It's more like the train has picked up so much speed that the sleeper compartment has a kind of constant silent rumble to it. Who could slumber in that? Time to climb out and stare at the scenery. Trying to... expand... to encompass all the newness.

Impending fatherhood. Impending private practice, which means business ownership. Newly fatherless. The strange towns roll by the window, all places I'm going to be living very, very soon, though no one knows the exact arrival time. Still... the ticket's punched. No return trip to youthful wanderings. This is a one-way train, and it's got more momentum than Fabian Cancellara, the Swiss Locomotive himself, on the back stretch in the Forest of Ardennes.

Whispers and rumblings of tomorrow: toddlerhood, grade school for him, old(er) age for me. Passengers in the cars ahead of me pass back rumors and opinions of what I'm to expect. I try to ignore it all. Twenty years of spiritual practice haven't taught me as much as I set out for, but I do know that this moment is the only real thing. On my good days, I even remember this.

Other days? Up at three a.m., rocking steady on the express to somewhere... somewhere good.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Outriding the Black Cloud

Rough day yesterday. Certain people decided I am the source of all their problems, and became irretrievably illogical and mean about it -- then, as the day wore on, called four other people in my agency (including my boss and the director) to complain to them about it. That set off a numbing chain of protocol I'm still dealing with today. And that's just a taste of what my week had been like so far.

So, I snuck out the door a few minutes early and bolted for home through a torrential downpour. By the grace of God, it was sunny and dry near my house. Broke the land speed record changing into my kit, threw a couple extra pounds of air into the tires, and mounted up and rode outta there like John Wayne after the bad guys.

I try to compensate for my non-living-wage salary, overlong car commute, and the non-profit version of corporate helplessness and anonymity, by focusing on the good that I can help people do for themselves, and the sense of mutual appreciation I have with my co-workers. When those turn into accusations and power struggles, where can I turn? Last night, it was the bike. Iit did the job -- mostly.

Long 10-minute intervals over singletrack and the roads by the river with the Vaya had me fully inhabiting my body and letting the flywheel of my mind disconnect and spin freely in the background. I wasn't in a great mood when I got back, but I'd felt strong for an hour, strong and capable. That beats a glass of any bourbon you care to name.

Today, it's back to the salt mine -- but the muscle-memory of capability is in my cells. It's helping, a little bit.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stupid, but Fun

A shorter route today, and on my own. I was quite unsure what I was going to be capable of today, because I felt so tired all week. Yeah, well… it’s amazing what temps in the 70s, blue skies, and a morning of cleaning house will do for my motivation to get out there and bite off a big hunk o’hill.

This week, I made a vow to limit my duration or intensity a little more this season,  because looking back at my logs, I discovered that whenever I go crazy, I end up sick or wiped out the following week.

Though I kept to my mileage limit today, I did a little more than I intended, vertically – 2,000 feet of climbing in thirty miles on the Vaya, all of it on loose gravel, which certainly can add to the toll. This was supposed to be a recovery week ride, but what’s life for, if not making the same stupid but fun mistake over and over again?

Was feeling quite sluggish most of the climb, but I downed my new go-to energy food, an almond-butter-and-honey sandwich, and very shortly was climbing with considerably more √©lan. That’s the second time that stuff has put much-needed fuel in my jets, so I’m sold. Costs way less than a Clif Bar and tastes three times better than any awful gel, too.

I think I’ll be swapping out the 45 mm Vee Rubber tires for the original 35 mm Small Block Eights on the Vaya. The 45s make my pseudo-single-track expeditions a little more manageable, but everywhere else, they’re just an albatross. I miss the light, incisive quality of the 35s. As for cushioning, let’s face it: Miles of washboard roads is brutal, and five pounds fewer psi does little to ameliorate that. Especially when you’ve paid for that cushion with every turn of the pedals on the climb.

A gorgeous spring day, though a tad warm; temps reached mid-80s. My bod tends to run warm, and my favorite riding season runs from March through May. Typical May that is, if there is such a thing as typical weather anymore. Brooks sparkled and splashed under dirt bridges, birds flitted energetically and sang with brio, and the Vitamin Water at the halfway point really hit the spot.

Here’s to the next dumb mistake!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hulk RIDE!!!!!!

Saturday turned out to be everything I needed it to be -- a balm for my tired, bruised soul.

Started with a righteous outing with new riding buddy Todd, whom I’d promised a jaunt through the hills around Conway and Whately. When we rolled out of his parking lot, it was chilly and my teeth were chattering, but the sun was toasty warm on our backs. A gorgeous, sunny morn.

After a couple miles of flattish warm-up, we climbed for quite a while up Route 116 into Conway; nothing too steep, just relentless. I promised him rolling terrain after the left down Whately Road, but I was wrong. We climbed a good bit more. Climbing is like life: When you tell yourself you’ve topped the hill is usually when you round the bend to see there’s a lot more coming.

 We finally leveled off for that rolling road I was wishing for. After all the climbing, it wasn’t chilly anymore – at least, not inside my jersey.

There were no complaints from either of us, because the scenery was so rewarding. May in New England… you can’t beat it. Thick, soft forests just leafing out overhead, brooks singing along the side of the road (I’ve always preferred climbing next to a cool, pretty stream), cows roaming about contentedly, knee-deep in earthy muck. The temperature eased over the line into relaxing warmth, and our spirits rose with it. Conversation picked up. My new experiment with almond butter and honey sandwiches instead of yucky, expensive energy bars yielded a delicious break in the shade of the Conway State Forest.

After crossing east over the Connecticut River again, I threw in a mean little kick of a hill leading into Amherst, just to bump us up to 2,100 feet of altitude for the ride. Thence, we rode for home along the flat, windy farmland of Route 47, parallel to the Connecticut, the north-south compass needle of the Pioneer Valley.

Something about going into the wind always gets my Jewish up, so I suggested we trade quick pulls to make the home stretch a bit more palatable. I soon came to regret it; Todd’s just younger and stronger than I am. But it was a great ride overall; 40 miles on the nose. We were high as kites at the end, and the sun was quite warm by then.

With a couple of tweaks of just half a centimeter each to seat height and set-back, the Quest fit me markedly better, and we got along swimmingly on my hardest ride of the year so far. It’s a fine bike. Yes, I feel its weight in the hills. But I really have to wonder if my 17- or 18-pound Cannondale would have made me any faster or helped me suffer less. I’m just not in shape yet.

That afternoon, Mrs. V and I indulged our inner children with a screening of the new Avengers movie, which thoroughly entertained us. Peacenik that I am, I find nothing more fun than watching the Hulk beat the tar out of annoying, bad people in a way that we all wish we could do now and then. I'm a proud child of Marvel's Bronze Age genius -- the maturation of the amazing foundation Jack Kirby and Stan Lee laid in the 60s. I go along thinking I'm above most things... and then I see the trailer for a new movie, and it's like I'm 10 again.

Same thing with a new bike. These are all good things.

Keep ‘em turnin’, friends.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Life on the new Jamis Quest has been fun. Still need to tweak the fit a little bit, and I'm not crazy about the Ritchey BioMax handlebars, on which the shoulders are swept back from the flats just a little bit. I never understood that. Whose wrists naturally angle outward, away from the center of the body? I'll be shopping around for something short and shallow soon -- maybe the Salsa bars by that name.

However, I did 35 miles on the thing last Friday and fairly flew the whole route, including, surprisingly, on the hills. I mean, the bike is a few pounds heavier than the CAAD 8, that aluminum razor blade I tortured myself on for three years. But there's an X-factor to it -- it just moves.

The jury's still out, but it seems there might be something true about the reputation for liveliness that steel has -- quality steel. There's a certain zing I get from it that's hard to describe. As if there were tailwinds the whole route, or  invisible wings on the chainstays. Lovely!

My family and I buried my dad's ashes in a lovely country cemetery in the Catskills of New York State last weekend. It was a brutal week leading up to it -- like going through his death all over again. The family relations were weird. But on the day of the event, the clouds parted -- literally, since we had sun for the only time in days -- and a small, sweet group of friends and family came together and made the day right. In the end, Pop would have been pleased, though he would have said something restrained, like, "That was correct." Good ol' Pop, heaven forbid he get excited. Miss him like crazy every day.

Off to yet another interview in preparation for the adoption. Was supposed to be the last, but it turns out, there'll be another. As Dad said when he was going through cancer treatment, "It's their world, I just live in it." If Mister Overbearing, 1933-2011, can go with the flow while facing off with his Maker, I can do this. No sweat.

Tomorrow? Sunny, low 70s, and 40 miles of New England hills with a friend -- a tonic for the stress and senselessness of the world.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

All the News

Heckzapoppin' here at Velophoria Central. I thought I'd create a little roundup (as they say in the news biz) of the latest tidbits.

From the Everything Old is New Again Desk: Long-time readers know that my first serious bikes (back in COUGH the 1980s) were road bikes, and, despite my considerable gravel and off-road forays of late, that's where my roots remain. Now, I had been dissatisfied with my two road bikes for some time, though I haven't mentioned it much here. The Giant OCR was quite comfortable, but the quality of the ride and the spec was getting me down. The Cannondale CAAD 8 was a stunning thoroughbred, but the top tube was too long, the bars were too low, and the ride was like mountin a razor blade -- sharp, but hardly comfortable. The Giant frame wasn't owrth the scratch for an Ultegra spec. Trying to frankenbike the crystal-pure racing pedigree of the CAAD into something more relaxed went against everything the bike was built for.

I searched for a good compromise for nearly a year. A month ago, I found it: The Jamis Quest. An elegant and responsive frame wrought from storied Reynolds 631 steel, and a good spec (including Mavic wheels and an Ultegra rear derailleur). I rode a variety of highly touted steel frames during this search (including the alluring Casseroll from Vaya); this was the first that sang to me the music I remember from steel bikes of old. I was able to do a straight trade last week for the other two bikes at my favorite LBS (Hampshire Bicycle Exchange) so my wallet made no objection. The first 50 miles have been quite promising; much more to say on this beauty as the miles pile.

A very similar Quest build to mine. Pix to come. (Photo:

From the Life Goes On desk: We're off this weekend to bury my dad's remains at a beautiful little cemetery not far from the country home he and  my stepmom made in the Catskills. Bizarre, natural, cyclical, unpleasant, good. 'Nuff said.

From the Major Announcements Buried in a Humdrum Post desk: One of the things that has been taking up our time and energy lately is the exciting pending addition of a first child to our family. For the last year, we have been going through all the bureaucracy leading to eligibility for adoption. Well, we are now fully eligible, and our agency is beginning to look at children for us. We'll be adopting a young boy, probably of pre-school or kindergarten age. Needless to say, this has been quite a big process for us, both externally and internally. I haven't said anything about it here because there isn't a lot to say until you're actually eligible -- just a lot of classes and paperwork. Now? On the one hand, there has been -- and will be -- less time and energy to do all the outdoor things that make life so good for me. On the other hand... well, come on. A son! There is nothing better than that. We're excited and overwhelmed. Obviously, once a child ins in our house, you'll be hearing a lot more about this. Like maybe forever. The Velosopher's life is changing completely.

Family rides are in the future, for one thing!